Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Other as Capital: Cixous' Manhattan

The Other as Capital: Cixous' Manhattan
by Max Clark

"If the product of labour is alien to me, and confronts me as an alien power, to whom does it then belong?

To a being other than me.

Who is this being?

The gods?" --Marx

"The Other resembles God"


Capital is an other, or alienated being. Our relation to this other, moreover, is inextricable from our relations with all other others. In Cixous' Manhattan we find evidence of this particular other (hereon a capitalized Other) as the external compulsion of capital. Graphing the constellation of this conception of the Other with other uses of the term is not the task of this essay. Suffice it to note here that its massive overdetermination is perhaps the allure.

Cixous writes exactly what she doesn't want to, or what the opposite of her self wants. The "omnipotence-" with which she prefixes her "others" only underline this suggestion. Her literary production is a practice of abdication before the hegemony of the Other. A knowing abdication however; a critical abdication. Cixous, haunted by the force of manifold exteriorities, yet partially engulfs these ghostly absences in her surrender to them. The trace of the Other is manifest in obedience to its commands. To further abstract: the confession of our abdication before capitalist hegemony betrays a future sovereignty.

"Always I've done what I didn't want to do. Therefore I thought I have always given in to the other will, therefore I have always wanted to do what my unwill wanted to do." (20)

As we read Manhattan, Cixous declares she will not write Manhattan. The performative contradiction here is obvious, but precisely it alone unveils the external compulsion dictating her performance. Few authors raise to such a panoramic height this real tension in the production of literature. We write for the Other, or the Other writes in us, but no other rule exists here than that of external automatism of capital over against our internal self-determination. A writing for the Same, for the self -- as a monad internalizing its community, that is the negative limit implied, that is the latent end. But Cixous does not live as a communist, none of us today do, thus the prescience and practicality of her description of being dominated. Cixous's slavery is essentially all the proletariat's slavery. However enwreathed with prestige her labors are, she remains a voice of exploitation by the Other of her own reified production. Insofar as she produces literature, she too enjoys a merely animal existence, as a being guided by powers, or the "authorities-other", outside her own control.

Fleeing the book, through detours and circumlocutions, then is the only manner of accomplishing it. Cixous knows that no individual avoidance of the Other escapes the confines of its law. There is no non-relation to the Other, although the Other is the figure of non-relation. Non-relation is the relation to the Other. If Manhattan then reads like a montage or mosaic of notebook entries, arranged only tangentially around the theme of a memoir, it is because each part of it is a belabored and impossible escape or distraction from the details of the task at hand.

Yet Cixous never names capital as the Other. "You never know whom you obey when you act imperiously against your own will." (65) Not even the Other is known as such? The name capital is thus Cixous's greatest secret, secret perhaps even to herself. And a fearfully secret name, in as: "The Thing is dead yet the fear lives on." (54) Capital, the deathly thing-in-itself, whom Cixous pretty much ought also to recognize outside of her Heideggerian translation of it as Das Ding, is precisely her "almighty-other". Just as "the Other resembles God", the Other is actually capital. Yet Cixous never names capital as the Other. She ought to, but does not.

If ever there was a psychological resistance specific to capitalist society it is to name capital as such. Like God, or as indeed the true name of God, enunciating the word capital is a fearful exercise, ever chancing to invoke retribution. If Cixous ought to name capital, and the author has only stumbled across this ethical formulation accidentally (although ethics and political economy concern the same field of human experience), it is because this name is proper, and the proper name is an efflux of the practice of private property. Out of the field of all possible differential relations a private field and proper name are fixed, and this is the referential site of the ought. The ought assigned Cixous is not primarily an authorial intervention therefore. It instead follows inexorably from the referential logic of proper name -- no one being being responsible for producing the structure of this language and society.

Cixous ought to write capital where she does write other. But to determine capital as the proprietary name of the other, does this not presuppose something? Doesn't it privilege the Marxist family of determinations concerning the Other? Indeed it does. Betrayed, even, is the filiation of this author as a son of Marx. Serene indifference to all lines of inheritance is itself only a line of inheritance. Perhaps the ultimate act of indifference to this latter legacy is then to claim it, covetously. To claim an inheritance, and own its prior determinations, is this not presently inevitable then?


'Terrible event of a great perfection, leaving no room for any other occurrence.' (94)

Cixous abdicates her self-determination before the Other. The only choice is not to choose. (We are spiraling back around to the beginning of this text, sewing a new stitch in its knot.) Nothing more of substance is to be written. All that follows is an involuntary reiteration lashed out of this signatory by default of the all-permeating drive to calculable accumulations. Excessive scribbling, i.e. the production of literary surplus-value, has ever ruined literature from the beginning. The written word knows nothing but the yoke of superfluous effort. And still we conspire in our own imprisonment. It is a 'self-uncrowning-with-a-thought-to-self-recrowning'. (134) Capital subjugates us into prophesies of our own unbinding. It is its way, not ours, to project a way of our own.

To then abdicate before its dictatorship again, and we have done nothing else, the end of the Other, the involuntary determination of an otherwise than its Otherness, will mark an interminable trace of the Other within the body of this otherwise. An alternative to capitalist hegemony, nothing less than the dictatorship of the proletariat, cannot but displace, or 'preserve in negation', capitalist relations within itself. Otherness is thus the agent of novel totalities, much to the terror of 'otherwise' Neo-Kantian formalists. State capitalism will have inexorably inhabited all future socialism. Our future abdications will thus have been invariant. Socialism will not quit the 'great phantom-theme of the haunting without which there is no literature...' (66) Its text will have ever been produced against our will.

We will thus also remain as animals cowed before an Other. The absence, or absenting, of a human species-being will live on through its death agonies. 'Animal beasts in truth fossils revived by fear climbcrawl our sides in vain, we shall not climb out of this hellish funnel.' (137) No clambering from out 'this hellish funnel' of debased animality (which Cixous recognizes only peripherally -- literally on the 'sides' of her body), because an authentic becoming-human is achieved precisely through the Other-determined field of animality. Human species-being is, in truth, a universal animality, a speciesless-being -- thus too its great and manifold beauty. Schizophrenic 'becoming-animal' therefore parallaxes into an authentic 'becoming-human'.

'The room is full of invisible swine. A pack of grunts in the elevator... Let us enter delirium then.' (141)

Alluring as that entrance may yet be, perhaps we should instead dip into the young Marx's well once more:

'The positive expression "human" corresponds to the definite relations predominant at a certain stage of production and the way of satisfying needs determined by them, just as the negative expression "inhuman" corresponds to the attempt to negate these predominant relations and the way of satisfying needs prevailing under them without changing the existing mode of production...' (GI)

The obsidian-sharp prescience of the old Moor is indeed terrible. There is, once again, nothing more to be written after it but for the spurrings of the capitalist-Other. The question of the inhuman, among the great 'unthought' gifts of all contemporary theory, is at once among the most riven and raw confessions of resistance to capitalist social relations and the most pathetic of resignations before their omnipotence. Kafka, an author Cixous bluntly distances herself from in Manhattan (e.g. 'I've never wanted to be Kafka' [161]), is nonetheless the paradigmatic figure with regards to her zoolatrous rebellion. It matters nothing to the Other that Cixous does not want to be Kafka --it matters nothing that any of us would be so bigoted as to resist an intimate identification with him-- metamorphosis is material to the above determined absence of species-being. Even if metamorphoses are not revolutionary, this
excuses no one from the social regime generative of them.

The text of socialism will have been written against our will. As Orwell confessed to the world, we will remain animals. A damning proposition, indeed, perhaps even part false, if we allow that capitalism's immanent will to socialism is precisely our own (we animals) will to socialism. Freedom is the recognition of capitalist necessity, then, and much more so than most organized forms of Marxism care to admit. For the capitalist relations inhabiting all socialist organizations, even and especially the vanguardist species, are then not to be obscured or secreted behind massively fortified silences, or even a manufactured unconsciousness, but celebrated as part of the means for breaching another world.

The sum total of dialectical whirligigs running through this text, especially those grafted on in the ellipsis of reception, are utterly trilling by now, however, and the author has long since lost control of his word-machine.

A fatalist gesture is inexorable to reckoning the capitalist-Other's omnipotence. 'How do you explain the gesture that springs from the depths of your sleep?' (140) How else? A turn of fatalism into voluntarism is notorious in the Marxist literature furthermore. One becomes willed to will perhaps. This willed-will, in a classical negation of the negation, moreover, might become an independent will proper. Or, in presuming as given an utter obeisance to the externality of capital, the dialectical negation of an autonomous interiority is also generated. Reading Cixous, whose thought is pristinely rigid, even 'fissured from top to bottom' (159), for such slippages into the autonomous, assuming such a thing indeed happens, is the program of an entirely different text however. No more need truly be said in this regard, excepting for how capital flashes it whip against this scribbler.

Nothing need really be said at all, except for the fact that the capitalist-Other impels one to squawk out some bankable jibberish. This is the only point really worth making. Manhattan's lucidity in this regard precedes us. All yarns have heretofore spooled out off the stick of ruling-class bludgeons. Even Lenin's paper -- the very scaffolding of the vanguard party, it was and is a capitalist commodity. If in Marxism we therefore find a haunted bourgeoisie, in Leninism that haunted bourgeoisie is made manifest! No incoherence is evidenced herein with the most orthodox Marxist-Leninist statement one can make: capitalism is itself immanently anticapitalist.

Cixous: 'I write what comes, without explanation.' (48) How pleasant it would be to likewise conquer in this polemic without conception. The conception of a new order is precisely what we are compelled to however. Falling back on a somewhat questionable dialectic then, one that is perhaps still capable of being rigged for to uses however, it must be reiterated that a Platonic idea of communism does not nest its germs in the political-ideological 'superstructure' of capitalist society, waiting uncontaminated outside its vicissitudes only to be miraculously disseminated across the 'infrastructural' means of production. No. Orthodoxy states that communist metamorphoses in the means of production will have only been expressed, a posteriori, by political-ideological organizations. No working class seizure of the means of production, no authentically socialist socialist organization.

'Before the year was out I unmasked myself, I announced that for nothing in the world would I become a doctor, sick people scare me I say, I fear the exaltation of sick people, I fear bodies whose every orifice starts talking, who hear the voices of their organs, of their blood, of all the canals, arteries, streets, internal monuments. I don't need to be other others. My own others were just fine.' (162)

All our orifices talk here, always already. We hear the voices of our organs and the streets. We need to be other others. We need to be other Others. Cixous abdicates too much, in end, perhaps. Nothing she could do about it, such is our thesis. (Nothing but an externally infused avarice keeps us writing here.) Or perhaps it is in abdicating everything, not as though one had a choice in the matter, to exhaust oneself of autarkic resistances before the Other, that Cixous fails. Or perhaps tallying up her sins is of no interest here.

Cixous is a humbled author. Humility is a virtue, even for revolutionaries. It alone is the fount of all that foolish pride needed to overturn the established order. This is, of course, an echo of the dialectic of will outlined above. Salvaging religious doctrines for historical materialism is quite the trick-pony furthermore. Nothing absolutely wrong with it. Marx's expropriation of Catholic confession to revolutionary ends, evidenced in only a few lines of his early articles on the freedom of the press, deserves a book-length elaboration. But digressions such as this, as is suggested above, are again a characteristic trick of the scribal slave.

How to end?

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